Victor Davis Hanson // Private Papers
Eight years after that last auto-avicide, the barn began to slowly tip over as the old eucalyptus poles wobbled, and the fir rafters finally after a near century and a half bent. At some point, after 40 years of fixing, repairing, borrowing to keep ancient things viable, I thought for a second “let her topple.”
The barn was largely full of junk anyway and an eyesore. I called around and got an estimate of $5,000 to haul it away—and be done with the headaches of constant repair, junk collecting, and whitewashing. Now and then a thief would get in, rummage around and find the booty wasn’t even worth the break-in.
But instead I heard voices in the shadows of rebuke and hired a local carpenter, as if one has no right to destroy what was left of his great-great-grandmother’s barn. So Saul Ruiz rebuilt the rafters. He put in new four-by-fours. He framed the interior out, and nailed ¾ inch plywood throughout. With jacks and rope, soon the barn was perfectly straight, firm and stout. I had a master builder put new sliding doors in. I though it looked as it did when my grandfather, not me, was 7 in 1897—27 years after his grandmother had built it.
And then Saul Ruiz said, “Bictor, compadre, now we come to the siding. Let’s finish the job right. OK? You buy, I nail. I’ll get good redwood and we will go right over the old stuff. Then it looks like new. No cracks, no nothing wrong.” I liked Saul a lot. He had an in with a lumber yard. The cost was reasonable. It would bolster up the barn even more.
But suddenly I thought, why cover up something that has lasted 150 years? And what of a future barn owl, or maybe one is here tonight? So I said, “Sal, I like the old wood and the cracks too. Owls do too.” He thought I was crazy and said, “Never leave a job unfinished.” So, instead, I had him repair the shed and skip the barn siding. He was happier working there anyway.
But at least we pressure-washed the old siding, and painted it, cracks and all. The barn still looks old from the outside but new and strong from the within. Saul’s work. But then suddenly I thought too—‘Here we go again. Another dead barn owl?’ And then I sort of remembered, “Life is a tradeoff, good and bad, bad and good.”
So far I’ve notice the rodents are still sporadic. I think I hear swishing at night. I put a studio in the barn. One night during a filming, I heard a strange sound right outside. When it was over, I walked outside, and couldn’t see a thing.
Then I had an eerie feeling and looked straight up, six feet above my head. There was a barn owl, alive and glued to the side of the barn. He seemed he belonged there more than I did on the ground, his superior right of inheritance I guess.
I thought “He’s stuck, so here we go again.”
But he swished off without a hitch, a perfect take-off, his landing gear free and clear.
I thought of my now late daughter, the empath, and wanted to yell out to her, “But look! He’s free and alive. You see him. He’s alive!” And then I heard too mom, above the swishing, once more whispering to me, “Good and bad, bad and—good…”